Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Hagia Sophia

On Tuesday morning, the group changed our agenda—because it is closed Monday, we were going to miss the Hagia Sophia, but our combined groups unanimously decided we needed to see the Hagia Sophia instead of the Green Mosque in Bursa. That would have been fun, and we might have also seen more silk production there, but, well, can’t miss the most famous icon of Istanbul.

Of course, more than a few other groups got across town in the heavy traffic, too, and we felt lucky to not get trampled getting through the gates. Once in, we had to learn to just let the masses of people be invisible.

Background—this grand cathedral was built by early rulers of Constantinople. Two mathematicians [time for Ann to fill in some info here…] were charged with designing “a temple larger than Solomon’s,” not an easy task in a land on a major fault zone. They succeeded, with a unique dome. The whole structure used marble from the isle of Marmara, columns raided from the Temple of Artemis, one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, porphyry from Lebanon, Roman urns from Pergamum, and gold, well, from the whole empire.
In the sack of Constantinople, those same Christian Crusaders also looted the Hagia Sophia, and the church likely would have been lost, Suleyman tells us, if the Ottomans who soon retook the city had not converted it to a mosque, and spent a great deal in repair. Of course, to become a mosque, all images of human figures had to be removed and all distinctly Christian symbols.

And even the archangels in the ceiling corners lost their faces.

They added a prayer focus to face Mecca (at the right) and the Sultan’s lodge (the elevated box)—a private space for the Sultan to pray...

Fortunately, the Ottomans decided to plaster over many other images rather than destroy them, so after 16 years with the dome full of scaffolding—including the last time I was here—many images have recently been restored.

The other fortunate turn for the Hagia Sophia is that in the 1920s the new leader of Turkey changed this into a museum, a secular space, now open to all.

Lee, a CC art teacher, who will be writing her new thesis on the mosaics, was not unhappy to be here…

Later, bob

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1 Response
  1. Lee Says:

    Well, Bob, yes, I was very happy to be there! I thought I’d share a bit of interesting information about the mosaics.

    The mosaics from Justinian’s time have been lost, but after the period of Iconoclasm (726–843), new figural mosaics were added to replace the previous mosaics, which had been destroyed. In 1453 the Ottomans conquered Constantinople. Sultan Mehmet II began a vast campaign of building mosques and one of his first acts was converting Hagia Sophia to a Mosque. However, because Mehmet had an appreciation for art and history he did not destroy the mosaics, and had them covered over with plaster.

    An Extensive restoration of the entire building occurred in May 1847. When Sultan Medjiid saw a large section of uncovered mosaics for the first time, he was so impressed with the beauty of the uncovered mosaics, he ordered the plaster be removed from all of them. However, the mosaics were not in view for long and the figural mosaics were again re-covered with plaster, and the plaster was painted with non-figural designs. It is believed that the Hagia Sophia mosaics have survived largely due to the Medjiid 1847 restoration and the plastering which protected them. To add... it was at this time that the large Islamic calligraphic roundels were added to the interior of the structure.

    The first restoration of the 20th century began in 1931 and continued to 1938. An extensive inventory was done, as detailed drawings and tracings were made of the mosaics as they were revealed. Each individual piece of mosaic, called a tessera, was carefully revealed and cleaned. The angle of each tessera was recorded and studied. It was determined that they were placed at angles in deliberate ways as to construct color and reflect light. The angle of each tessera was determined by the direction of the light and therefore is unique for each individual mosaic design. Each mosaic location has different angling of tesserae. In some areas where tesserae had fallen out, color washes were visible underneath, revealing the patterns that were used to create the mosaics.

    It was incredible to see the mosaics in person and see their texture and thickness!


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